Alaska, COP21& the Arctic Council: 2015 Year in Review (Part 2)

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Kayaktivists Jordan Van Voast and Martin Adams hold a sign in protest of the arrival of Shell's Arctic drilling vessel the Noble Discoverer as it came into Everett, Wash. on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. Shell's pullout from Arctic Alaska was good news for environmentalists in 2015. (Daniella Beccaria/seattlepi.com via AP)
United States Secretary of State John Kerry, surrounded by staff and security, attending the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting Friday, April 24, 2015 in Iqaluit, Nunavut. What mark will the United States leave on the international forum in 2016? (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
French President Francois Hollande, right, French Foreign Minister and president of the COP21 Laurent Fabius, center, and United Nations Secretary General Ban ki-Moon at COP21. Governments adopted a global agreement at the conference to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. What implications will this have for the Arctic? (Francois Mori/AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau with thier youngest son Hadrien in the Arctic Canadian city of Iqaluit on October 10, 2015. How will the Liberal government's Arctic policy evolve in the coming year? (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
2015 has drawn to a close which means Eye on the Arctic is looking back at the year’s news and events with some of our experts from around the globe.

That’s when we check in with them for their views on all things Arctic, and what they’ll be watching for in 2016.

In Part 1 yesterday, we talked  Shell, governance and Arctic exceptionalism with Heather Exner-Pirot, managing editor of Arctic Yearbook.

In Part 2 today, we take on Alaska, the Arctic Council and COP21 with Mia Bennett who runs the Cryopolitics Arctic News and Analysis blog.

Feature Interview with Mia Bennett
Mia Bennett, manager of the Cryopolitics news and analysis blog and Phd student in the Department of Geography at the university of University of California, Los Angeles. (Courtesy Mia Bennett)
Mia Bennett, manager of the Cryopolitics news and analysis blog and Phd student in the Department of Geography at the university of University of California, Los Angeles. (Courtesy Mia Bennett)

Eye on the Arctic: How would you sum up Arctic news this year in just one word?

Mia Bennett: Hopeful. We had Cop21 and reached an agreement. Obama visited the Arctic, the first sitting president to go there. Shell didn’t come up with any oil in its well which is hopeful for environments. And then, continued relative peace between Russia and the West in the Arctic.

What were the three most important Arctic stories of 2015?

    1. Shell’s retreat from offshore Alaska:  I think this was a major disappointment to many in Alaska where 90 per cent of the GDP comes from oil. But at the same time it was heartening for many environmentalists. On top of that, putting the nail in the coffin for Arctic oil in America,  Obama has cancelled the oil lease sales in 2016 and 2017. So this is a big story for the American Arctic.
    2. US takes over Arctic Council chairmanship from Canada  The U.S. is focusing more on climate than Canada did, while still continuing some of the Canadian initiatives like the Arctic Economic Council. I think we’ll continue to see the U.S. shape its Arctic policy in the region under the One Arctic: Shared Opportunities, Challenges and Responsibilities banner over the next year and seeing how that unfolds will be interesting.
    3. COP 21: Although this isn’t directly related to the Arctic, I think the whole idea that world leaders have finally recognized  that there is a climate problem and they need to limit warming to below two degrees Celsius is a big step in the right direction. This is good news for the Arctic even though the Arctic still needs a lot more in order for the situation environmentally to begin to return to normal – if that’s even possible.

What was the most overlooked northern story or issue of 2015? Canadian election and its implications for the Arctic. It’s a big deal that Liberal Justin Trudeau was elected and (Conservative) Stephen Harper’s decade-long reign is over. With that we’re possibly seeing the end to Harper’s very aggressive, muscular ‘Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic’ line. I think there needed to be more drilling down and questioning Trudeau on how he would like to see the region evolve.

What will you be watching for in 2016?

        1. Mining in Greenland: Two years ago the Greenlandic parliament overturned a ban on uranium mining which had been in existence since the 80s. We’re already starting to hear about companies applying for mining licence applications so we’ve possibly reached the crest of the wave where we might actually see more mining taking place.
        2. Price of Oil: Prices are still predicted to drop lower which is not good for the Arctic oil industry since they have high break-even points, at least $50 if not $90, in many parts of the Arctic. This could jeopardize Norway’s desire to push farther north or especially Russia which is very much looking forward to developing its offshore continental shelf.
        3. Climate change: This year for example we’re having El Niño at more southern latitudes and this could potentially push a lot of heat up into the Arctic and that could exacerbate, say, melting of the Greenland ice sheet.  I think all these global climate connections are going to be important to watch.

The above Q&A has been edited and abridged.

Listen to the full Eye on the Arctic interview with Mia Bennett:

For more from Mia Bennett, check out her blog space on Eye on the Arctic.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic circumpolar news project. At Eye on the Arctic, Eilís has produced documentary and multimedia series about the issues facing aboriginal peoples in the circumpolar world. Her documentary Bridging the Divide was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards. In her weekly column on RCInet.ca, she focuses on the people and issues making a difference in northern Canada. Eilís began reporting on the North in 2001. Her work as a reporter in Canada and the United States, and as TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China" has taken her to some of the world’s coldest regions including the Tibetan mountains, Greenland, Arctic Russia, Yukon, Nunavut and Nunavik. Read Eilís Quinn's articles

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